Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaska: Icy Strait Point/Hoonah June 20, 2012

Icy Strait Point is a port conceived of by the local Tlingit tribe. As such, its character is completely different from any other port we visited on this trip.
Because of the way the port is designed, one must take a ship’s tender over to the port, about a mile or so from the town of Hoonah.
Our excursion, booked through Holland America, was Whales, Wildlife and Bears, a five and a half hour combined tour which would take up most of our time at this port.
The first part of the excursion found us on a large catamaran taking us out to Adolphus Point.
This was the most impressive of all the trips of this ilk during the entire cruise. We saw a large group of Humpback Whales, many quite nearby.
We were all impressed with what we were seeing until they began breaching. At that point, being impressed morphed into being mesmerized and amazed.
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During our time out we also had opportunity to see Dall’s Porpoises, Sea Otters, and Steller’s Sea Lions. As for birds, even though Avie and I were about the only people interested in them, we saw Common Loon, Mew and Herring Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Marbled Murrelets, and Pigeon Guillemots (the dominant birds of this trip).
We returned to Visitor Center at Hoonah to wait for the “Bear Search” portion of our excursion to begin. While we waited, Avie and I shared a not-so-good chowder at the Visitor’s Center.
After about a forty-five minute wait, we boarded bus for the Spaaski River. During the ride, our guide, a Tlingit woman, spoke to us about her tribe, her people, and her life.
When we arrived, we walked down a boardwalk through muskegs filled with beautiful wildflowers.
We also passed definite indications there were Brown Bears in the area!
Some people, including Avie, saw large Brown Bear chasing Black-tailed Deer.
There were three stops along river. At the second one, using our binoculars, we were able to see a very blonde Brown Bear with her cub, tucked low into the grass by the river (in the distance).
At the third stop we had a clearer, though still distant view, of another bear lumbering along in the field on the far side of the River. Because it was so distant (and we don’t have an expensive lens on the camera), this was the best shot we could get.
There were also signs of Crossbills (Conifer seeds scattered in a concentrated manner below certain trees) and Red-breasted Sapsucker.
Again, we heard many birds (Varied Thrush, Song Sparrow, Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and some songs we didn’t recognize at all). But it was extremely difficult to spot them in the thick foliage.
By the way, not only were we accompanied on our walk by our Tlingit guide. We also had the protection of a young man carrying a high-powered rifle. Our guide told us there had never been any incident with bears within her tribe. I guess they just wanted to make sure there were no incidents with their visitors either.
Happily, this was the only bear we came really close to.
Before taking a tender back to the ship, we did a bit of shopping back at Visitor’s Center. Overall, I think they had better offerings than many of the shops we had visited in Juneau and we were able to purchase a few gifts for people back home.
We tendered back to the shipand went up on rear of Lido deck. As the ship began leaving Icy Strait Point we saw tons of wildlife.
This was when we got our first and only Kittlitz’s Murrelets. After having seen so many Marbled, the much lighter coloration of the Kittlitz’s jumped out at us.
We saw another Common Loonas well as one or two birds we couldn’t quite get a bead on. As we watched, we also saw lots of Porpoises, Sea Otters, and Whales.
Unfortunately we had to come in, even though sun was still high and lots of birding and “mammaling” could still be done.
We were delighted the next day was a sea day and hoped to do a great deal more pelagic birding.
The List:
Common Loon
Pelagic Cormorant
Bald Eagle
Mew Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Herring Gull
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Kittlitz’s Murrelet
Rock Pigeon
Rufous Hummingbird
Tree Swallow
Northwestern Crow
Common Raven
American Robin
Varied Thrush
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow

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